Marian Bantjes: Beyond Pretty Pictures
The graphic designer’s new monograph explores the range of her creative output over the past decade.By Anne Quito, Superscript October 9, 2013
Though her ornamental typographic style is often imitated, Marian Bantjes is peerless. Her work can be seen in covetable Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bags, in publications like The Guardian, Wired, and the New York Times, or even in your designer friend’s wrist tattoo. Her recently published monograph, Marian Bantjes: Pretty Pictures (Metropolis Books), designed, produced, and written by Bantjes herself, catalogues her creative output over a nine-year period including candid notes about her most celebrated works and rejected proposals. In a conversation with Anne Quito, Bantjes talked about creating the book, including a special appearance by her Labradoodle.
Anne Quito: Pretty Pictures seems to bookend a defining arc in your career. How did you know it was time?
Marian Bantjes: One can do these things too early and not have enough of a developmental arc, or leave it too late. I felt that there was still a great interest in my work, while I was also struggling with a feeling of restlessness in myself, and a feeling that I was nearing the end of a cycle of some kind. I also had a barely manageable amount of material, and knew that leaving it longer would make it even more unwieldy. In retrospect, given how the book worked out in terms of the amount of stuff (a LOT) and the size of the book, it was probably exactly the right time to do it.
AQ: Your design philosophy transmits so eloquently in your writing. How did you develop such a lucid writing style? Who are your favorite authors?
MB: I've always loved writing, and many years ago my brother told me he thought I was a better writer than an artist (though I'm not sure he'd say the same today). When I was in my teens I read a ton of British literature (The Brontës, Thomas Hardy, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Austen, et al.) and I think I picked up a slightly antiquated way of both writing and speaking. My favorite authors now tend to be a little odd: Peter Carey, James Kelman (author of How Late it Was, How Late which is one of my favorite books), Cormac McCarthy, Gary Shteyngart ...
Bantjes with her Labradoodle, Moser
AQ: You end the book with "I don't know what lies ahead for me. Hopefully not more of the same..." Do you have an intuition what this reinvention might look like?
MB: Well, my work is constantly changing and moving in new directions and I find it's hard to get clients to come along with me for the adventure. Increasingly it seems they want to pick something out of a catalogue, and I just don't work well that way, and I don't like to repeat myself too much. So I want to make things of my own. I have things to say, and things that I think are important information that I'd like to get out there. I also just have strange little projects I want to explore in film and other media for my own amusement. As usual, the problem is money. I don't actually make a ton of money, so I have to keep some kind of income, and the problem is trying to figure out how to make new things work for me financially. I feel like I'm at another crossroads in my career, like I was ten years ago. But then I was desperately unhappy, whereas this time I'm only dissatisfied and restless, so it's harder to make the leap into the unknown.
AQ: Is that your dog Moser on the inside cover of your book?
MB: That is indeed Moser, my Labradoodle. He is only a year and a half old, and I am hopelessly in love with him. I just wanted him to be there in the book, and I like fur anyway. I think it's funny. I thought it would be extra sweet to put dog fur on the endpapers.